Albert finds a reason to stop pouting
Credit: ITV
S1 E5
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Friends, royals, animal lovers, meet Mr. Bumps. In addition to having the best dog name this side of Gary Fisher, Lord Alfred’s Dalmatian also goes to fancy dinners, curtsies on command, and wears a cameo choker. “Mr. Bumps was so jealous of my miniature of Her Majesty that he wouldn’t let me alone ‘til I got him one, too,” Alfred explains, proving that people have been weird with their dogs since way before it was possible to make them Instagram famous.

Even I kind of want to free Mr. Bumps from this life, so you can only imagine how Prince Albert takes it when, just back from his two-day honeymoon, he’s greeted in his own home by a curtsying Dalmatian. Scandalized, he runs to his brother and mother-in-law/aunt: “Dogs wear jewelry, the pianos are out of tune, and all the people talk about is the weather!” Albert whines. Good to see marriage hasn’t made him any less peevish.

Albert’s brooding is fun when it’s directed at the eccentricities of British high society — dogs included — but a lot of his brooding in “The Queen’s Husband” isn’t so flattering. The prince is insecure about his place in England and unhappy with the fact that he’s defined in relation to his wife, and his very fragile masculinity is starting to get old. To appease her husband, Victoria sets her sights on changing the rules so Albert can be the one to escort her into dinner. Did you know that the whole of Great Britain crumbles if these people walk into dinner in the wrong order?

Right now, the honor of taking the queen’s arm goes to her uncle Sussex, who walked her down the aisle. He’s a sweet old man with his own sense of style, but he’s very possessive of this “birthright.” When he tells Victoria that he’s clinging so hard to this tradition because he hasn’t had a happy life, he doesn’t even sound like he’s trying to guilt her — he’s just stating a fact. The guilt trip comes earlier, when he reminds her that before she became queen, there were plenty of people who wanted to change the system to avoid putting an inexperienced young girl in power. “I was not among them, ma’am,” Sussex says, “but then, I do not believe that rules should be altered when they become inconvenient.”

Victoria loves being inconvenient to stodgy old guys. It’s one of her favorite pastimes, second only to having an idea and then making someone else think they had it first. Her royal lightbulb moment: Sussex has a wife, Lady Cecelia, who isn’t of royal blood, meaning the marriage isn’t officially recognized in court. Thanks to the Royal Marriages Act, there are some titles Cecelia isn’t allowed to have — but Victoria has a few that she can hand out at her discretion. The queen makes Cecelia the Duchess of Inverness, meaning Sussex finally gets to bring her to court to meet the queen. In exchange, he concedes Victoria’s point that spouses deserve respect; Sussex holds back to walk into dinner with his wife, and Victoria processes in with her Albert on her arm.

And guess who’s still not happy. Albert is impressed by Victoria’s Melbourney manipulations (she learned from the best), but if a man wins a victory that he didn’t personally strategize, is it even a win? “I think this is your victory, not mine,” the prince tells his giddy wife. Albert, just admit that you like pouting.

Albert mopes around the palace like the beautiful cliché he is, staring out windows and opening books just to shut them again. And then, finally, his fight comes to him. Victoria invites him to a meeting with a pair of representatives from the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, who’ve organized a convention to protest slavery wherever it persists. Delegates are coming from around the world, including “less enlightened” nations like America. (You know what? That’s fair.) The Society would love it if Victoria would open the meeting, and she wants to — she supports their cause — but as their sovereign, she can’t play sides, even when it’s a matter of basic human decency. And so politics continues to be a real joy.

But Albert isn’t bound by the same protocol, so he can speak if he wants to (he can leave his wife behind). He feels strongly about the abolitionists’ cause and just as strongly about letting the British people know what he’s really about. (“I have seen the cartoons where I am drawn as a sausage.”) Figuring that he might as well be scrutinized for something he actually believes in, Albert crafts a speech, which his new private secretary, Anson, translates to English — and cuts down by a few thousand words, because Albert’s gotta Albert.

NEXT: Pick a better disguise, Victoria

The day of the convention, Victoria shows up “incognito” — wearing a sheer lace veil that doesn’t hide her face at all — to support her husband. Anson gently points out that her “disguise is not impenetrable.” He’s right, obviously, and Victoria wouldn’t want to pull the focus away from her husband, which is why she decides to call in sick and go back to the palace. But is Anson up to something? Albert told him earlier that he knew seeing Victoria’s face would calm his nerves. Does Anson want him to fall, or am I reading too much into an innocent gesture?

Without Victoria in the audience, Albert gets off to a rough start. He pauses for what feels like a year when he gets to the word “barbarous,” which has been giving him trouble for days. But as soon as he gets over that hill and pronounces it correctly, he’s off and running. The prince gets a standing ovation, and even Robert Peel shakes Albert’s hand to congratulate him on a job well done. Victoria may not like Peel, but at least they can agree on abolition — which is good, because Melbourne can’t be Prime Minister from Brocket Hall forever.

As rousing as Albert’s speech is, he isn’t my favorite person in attendance at this convention. That would be Jonas Barrett, an American former slave played with dignity by Cornell John. As he waits in the wings to meet the prince, Barrett gets a primer on English manners. “Should I tell him he can call me Jonas if he wants?” he wonders. When told that it’s customary not to speak to royalty until spoken to, Barrett nods: “That’s a system I am familiar with.” SPILL THE TEA, BARRETT.

Albert treats Barrett with respect, asking if his escape was difficult and listening with unbroken eye contact as Barrett explains that it got a little easier after he got away from the bloodhounds. He must be sanding down so much of his story to make it more palatable. “I didn’t mind the hardships,” Barrett says, “because I knew I was on the way to freedom.” When the prince tells him that it’s good he’s here today, Barrett returns the compliment, calling him “sir” but never, despite instruction, “your royal highness.” The prince doesn’t mind — he probably doesn’t know the rules anyway — and I’m all for Barrett fighting the system as often as possible. I hope he got to speak at the convention; it really wouldn’t bode well if all the speakers at this gathering of abolitionists were white guys.

Back at the palace, Albert has more family drama to attend to. Ernest is starting to get awfully flirty with Lady Harriet, which would be great — please get married and stay forever! — if not for the fact that Harriet already has a husband. While the husband is away, Ernest will play, but Albert can see that they’re headed straight for scandal. He reminds his brother that even their father doesn’t go around seducing married women. “No,” Ernest replies, “but I don’t think Papa has ever been in love, either.”

If Ernest were the married one, no one would bat an eye at this affair, but married women get the short end of the stick. Ernest tells Harriet that his brother thinks he’ll be “safer” in Coburg; when she protests that “harmless flirtation with a married woman” isn’t exactly dangerous, he admits that there’s nothing harmless about it to him. So Harriet leaves him her handkerchief to remember her by, and Ernest says goodbye to the brother who doesn’t need him anymore. With Victoria in the room, Ernest tells Albert to at least hurry up and produce a son so he can be a godfather.

That’s fine by Albert, but Victoria isn’t ready to possibly die in childbirth quite yet. She asks Lehzen how not to get pregnant, and Lehzen whispers her sister’s go-to birth control method in the queen’s ear: Jump up and down on a cushion 10 times. (I’m aching for their lack of proper women’s health education.) Dash loves watching Victoria sneak away every night to bounce her heart out on the couch, but when Albert catches her, he sets her straight, at least by 1840s standards. “The only way to avoid conception is abstinence,” he says. “Is that what you want, Victoria? Abstinence?” They kiss. Bring on those kids; that’s what Victoria always says.

In this week’s downstairs plot, cholera has come to the slums, including the one where Skerrett’s cousin — the real Eliza Skerrett — lives with her daughter. Francatelli agrees to do what he can to help, but he grabs Skerrett’s waist and says he’ll need something in return. After sneaking into the slum (and, uh, risking exposing the whole palace to cholera) to orchestrate Real Eliza’s relocation to the countryside, Francatelli tells Our Eliza that all he wants is her real name. Are we supposed to like him now? Because sugary treats do not make up for stalking.

Royal scraps:

  • “That is the muffin man.” “The muffin man?” “The muffin man.” Wow, okay.
  • The edited version of Albert’s speech still seems pretty long.
  • “There’s no place for me here — here among your curtsying dogs.”

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